The Error Stat: Washington Capitals Defensemen

This is something that I have been wanting to experiment with for awhile but the only thing getting in the way was that it’s a very time consuming project because it requires me watching every goal the Capitals gave up this season. However, since I was doing that for the goalies, I figured that I would track the defensive errors on the goals as well. What is an error you ask? It’s what it sounds like. A defensive error that ends up being a goal for the opposing team. Oiler blogger, David Staples came up with this statistic as a way of tracking which player was the most responsible for a goal surrendered. It’s a better way of giving a negative attribute to a player who was on ice for a goal instead of charging every player with a minus. Unfortunately, his blog isn’t available right now but the people at Copper and Blue did this project with the Oilers players and have him quoted on what his definition of an error is.

The general rule is that goal-causing errors are assigned to all the players who have made a defensive mistake in a scoring sequence, or “the sequence of pain” as I like to call it. Typical errors include a player who misses an assignment, fails to backcheck properly, loses a battle in the corner, coughs up the puck, loses a faceoff, or makes a terrible line change.

If you had make no mistake, or if you have been playing well that shift on defence only to be let down by a stumbling teammate, you are not penalized with an error, a demerit point, when a goal against is scored your team.

It’s crucial to note that errors are often very small mistakes. The rule is: When in doubt, assign an error.

This applies to both forwards and defenseman because obviously, a forward can be responsible for a goal due to a turn over or lazy back-checking (I am looking right at you Alex Semin) but I only did defenseman for this project but I may expand on it later. This is also a way to see if the underlying stats really do show what happened on the ice or if a player is getting assigned against tougher competition than he should. Gabe from Arctic Ice Hockey did something similar with the Sharks defense in 08-09. I already analyzed the team’s defense and how they were used throughout the season but I figured this would be a good idea to expand on that and judge performance. In other words, I watched every goal the Caps surrendered this season and looked over the highlights closely to see which player(s) was/were at fault for the goal. Here’s how the results panned out:

Thoughts/Impressions:

  • Carlson gave up a lot of goals and had the most mistakes on the team, which is expected when you have a rookie who led the team in ice-time. He also screwed up a few more times than I expected him to and a good chunk of his errors were from early in the season when Poti and Green were hurt. Ryan Shannon certainly made him look like a rookie on the goal he scored in this game. He did settle in after some time, though and had less screw-ups in his own zone. His biggest issue appears to be net coverage since that was the error I wrote down the most for him. He also had a couple ugly turnovers but not too many disgusting errors to my recollection.
  • Alzner is a machine. Toughest competition, second lowest zone start percentage and had the lowest error percentage on the team for regular defensemen. If that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is. Like Carlson, most of his errors came at the beginning of the season (about half of them actually) and he really settled in after that. I do remember that some of his screw ups came when he was paired with someone other than Carlson, which could be a problem later down the road but this year, he was the team’s best defensive defenseman.
  • Scott Hannan was the team’s second best defensive defenseman. He was great at shot-blocking and knowing when to get physical with forwards but not take a dumb penalty or take himself out of the play. He had the least amount of egregious errors to my recollection as most of his screw ups either came from not being able to tie up a forward in front of the net or his lack of speed causing him to lose an edge and give a forward more space.  It makes me a little surprised that no team has signed him yet considering he isn’t that old and can still be serviceable to a team who could be in playoff contention. Also makes me question the decision of the Caps electing to sign Roman Hamrlik (who is 38) to a 2-year contract instead of looking to re-sign Hannan at a lower cost.
  • Schultz screwed up a lot, and he was given a lot of responsibility this year after being signed to a new contract. Too many times in my notes did I write down “Schultz fails to pick up forward,” “Bad coverage by Schultz” and “Schultz looking lost on the play.” That isn’t good for someone whose job it is to be a top-4 “shutdown” defenseman and one of the reasons (along with lack of depth) that Hannan was acquired. I also think this is why McPhee elected to acquire Hamrlik, too. He put faith in Schultz last year to be the team’s “shutdown defenseman” (before Alzner stepped into that role) and he couldn’t do it. The emergence of Alzner and the acquisition of Hannan decreased his role a bit and his errors hurt the team less.
  • Mike Green didn’t have as many errors as I thought he would be man, he looked UGLY on a lot of the goals he gave up. There were a few times where he was literally gliding back into his own zone while a 2-on-1 was occurring or him completely forgetting to cover a player in front of the net and just stand there looking clueless. However, he didn’t have too many errors resulting from bad pinches and seemed to screw up less than others did so I will say that he has cleaned up his work in the defensive zone a bit. Not as much as the pundits make it seem but there was definitely some improvement there.
  • When healthy, Tom Poti was absolutely brutal. Over half of the goals he gave up were his fault and I did a double check on the ones I charged him with errors with and confirmed it. He had a few pathetic clearing attempts, was caught in the neutral and offensive zone numerous times and constantly forgot to wrap-up forwards in front of the net. It’s almost scary that this guy saw the toughest competition among Caps defensemen in 2009-10. Yikes.
  • I’m pretty sure at least four or five of the errors I charged Erskine with were because of him making terrible pinches that led to an odd-man rush for the opposing team. I know he had his best offensive year but he definitely made a lot of bad decisions and mistakes which ended up being goals for the opposing team. His ceiling isn’t that high so there’s a reason why he’s given less ice-time than other defensemen on the team and matched up against weaker competition.  He also got beaten along the boards a lot of times which also led to goals.
  • The jury is still out on Wideman for me since he only played in 13 games for the Capitals. He made a few pretty bad plays, though which is what I figured would happen since his best asset is his puck-moving skills. He had his share of blunders in his Boston days, too so I’m guessing  there will be more to come with the Caps but if he can produce at the other end of the ice, then I will take them. At least over Tom Poti that is.
  • Tyler Sloan is a disaster. It’s almost shocking that he got to play 33 games at the NHL level this season (and more the previous year) with how terrible he is in his own zone. He’s classified as “someone who can fill-in when another player is hurt” but you’d be better off just rolling five defensemen instead of playing him after watching some of the idiotic mistakes he made this season. He had four in one game alone (the 5-0 shellacking against Atlanta) and somehow managed to be responsible for 63% of the goals he gave up despite getting sheltered minutes. When a GM elects to buy a player out instead of burying him in the AHL despite being signed on a cheap contract, you know he’s bad.
  • Nothing much to say on Sean Collins or Brian Fahey given how few games they played in but it’s odd that Collins was given tougher draws seeing how he’s more of a puck-mover.

I think this is an interesting stat but it does seem to punish players who play a lot of minutes because they are bound to have more errors than other (see John Carlson). However, when taking percentages into account, I think it does do a decent job of rating each player’s defensive ability and does a better job at holding a player responsible for a goal rather than the plus/minus stat. Definitely interested to look back and see some little things I didn’t take note of during the season.

Capitals logjam on the blue-line

After the trade deadline, the Caps have 9 defensemen on the roster. Currently, they are icing the corps of Alzner, Carlson, Schultz, Hannan, Wideman and Erskine while Sloan is a regular scratch and Green and Poti are hurt. Who plays and who sits when the latter two are healthy? We can look through their strengths and weaknesses to see who will be the ones playing and who will be sitting in the press box.

Player                   GP     ES TOI/G     SH TOI/G     PP TOI/G     TOI/G
John Carlson     68          17:42             2:19                2:25         22:27
Karl Alzner         68          17:03            2:05               0:22         19:31
Mike Green         49          18:23             2:21               4:26          25:11
Jeff Schultz         58          17:17            2:42               0:04        20:04
John Erskine      63          13:34            1:25                0:03        15:03
Scott Hannan     42          17:13            2:25               0:10         19:49
Tom Poti              21          14:27            2:32               1:21         18:21
Tyler Sloan         27          12:10            0:24              0:00        12:34
Dennis Wideman 66       17:28           3:00              3:45         24:06

Player              QUALCOMP    Corsi Rel QoC    CORSI REL    Ozone%    Fin Ozone%
Mike Green         -0.015              0.514                         7.2               52.0          49.6
John Carlson      0.045               0.956                        3.0               50.4          52.7
Dennis Wideman   -0.029         0.652                        3.0               53.1           52.8
Scott Hannan    -0.028              0.282                         2.7              48.2           45.4
Karl Alzner         0.047               0.982                        0.2               49.8           51.5
John Erskine     -0.032             -0.159                       -7.2               52.2          47.7
Jeff Schultz         0.017               0.691                        -7.3               50.8         47.7
Tom Poti            -0.025               0.562                        -9.7               51.2         49.3
Tyler Sloan       -0.003              -0.734                      -15.5              51.7        49.4

First off, Sloan is probably staying a scratch unless someone else gets hurt. Brutal numbers all around for him and he doesn’t contribute on the powerplay or penalty kill at all. He’s also ineligible to return to Hershey because he (nor Jay Beagle) were on the clear day roster so we’re stuck with him for the rest of the year. I also have to think that Tom Poti is likely done for the season since McPhee traded for Dennis Wideman. Wideman does just about the same thing Poti does as a mobile defenseman that can also kill penalties but he just does it better, especially from an offensive standpoint. This certainly doesn’t make Poti’s contract look any better, though.

That leaves seven d-men with six spots. Green will definitely be back in the lineup when he’s healthy. He’s too potent on the powerplay and we desperately need help in that area. It will be nice not to have him log ridiculous minutes with Wideman and Carlson contributing, too. At least I hope not. Speaking of which, I’ve heard people suggesting that we should give Carlson a few nights off because we’re giving him too big of a workload and I don’t think that’s a good idea. He’s been struggling the past few weeks but his play on the blue line has been consistent all year and him and Alzner have been the team’s “shut-down” pair and have been doing a damn fine job at it.

Scott Hannan has played well as a stay-at-home d-man so I see no reason to scratch him either which leaves us with Jeff Schultz and John Erskine. Schultz is definitely struggling. Whether it’s lingering injuries or not being paired with Green, something’s been up with him. Him and Hannan have shown chemistry on some nights and the two look like they can be a good, defensive pairing but there’s some other times where he’s looked horrendous. He may have an edge over Erskine, whose ceiling is a 3rd pairing defenseman. He doesn’t face great competition, gets offensive zone draws and doesn’t have great corsi numbers either. However, Erskine’s been a lot more physical than Schultz (2nd on the team in hits) and is a good shot blocker. He’s also one of the few players on the team willing to drop the gloves when the time is right. I think we might see Erskine scratched more than Schultz, though since Erskine’s game is a lot more physical and it has noticeably wore him down over a long period of time.

So, when everyone’s healthy, I think the pairings will look like this:

Green-Schultz

Alzner-Carlson

Wideman-Hannan

Erskine

I have to say, this looks to be a very impressive defensive corps (as it should be, it’s costing us a lot of money/cap space) and I definitely feel confident in it for the playoffs. Also, Copper & Blue also pointed out that while the Caps have a lot of injuries, they haven’t been that crippling because of how much depth there is here. An injury to someone like Mike Green would hurt a lot of teams badly and while it’s hurt our powerplay, the team is finding ways to win without him. The problem here will come in the off-season since we have a lot committed to our blue-line now and there’s a couple who have bad contracts (*cough*Poti*cough*) but I’ll address that in a later post.